Mon Choi stays optimistic in face of MU financial cuts

Duane Dailey

Most days, I look at my glass and find it half full. I try to be an optimist. Others look at their glass and see half empty. Pessimists do that.

More than ever news reports encourage pessimism. News from Washington or anywhere near Hurricane Florence remains bad.

On my worst day, nothing like that hits me. I am good to go, one more day. This comes after an awful week. I missed the Missouri Press Association meeting in St. Louis.

It’s good I’m still here. I’ve racked up enough close calls with my heart to be thankful for every extra minute. After my checkup with the cardiologist, he said come back in six months. I like his optimism.

Staying in town, I attended a meeting with the ultimate optimist, UM president Mon Choi. He makes even pessimists feel better.

He spoke at the Missouri Theater downtown. Faculty, staff, supporters and friends were there. We went to hear of “Excellence Through Innovation” a strategic plan.

Choi came into his new job and had to make $180 million in budget cuts, right off. That meant cutting job and programs. The trend lines on state support meeting MU needs still grow further apart.

Our rebuilding will make us stronger. Then we build on our strengths, Choi says.

It’s that fatherly advice of if you’re thrown off the horse you get right back up on that horse and ride ahead.

One thing I learned from President Choi in watching him at meetings like the Kirksville Livestock Symposium, he can talk farmer talk. Also, he sticks around to ask farmers what they need from the University. Unlike some leaders, he listens and responds.

After his talk Friday, Choi was right down mixing with the audience. He chats and listens. In meetings out in the country, I hear farmers tell of their belief in Choi

We have not always had presidents who can gain that quick connection.

Truthfully, we’ve had leaders who made me pessimistic.

In his plan for the future, Choi will put together $260 million as an investment in our future. That’s to be raised and spent over the next five years.

He starts with priority one: $100 million for scholarships. He says invest in the next generation. Of that, $75 million will be spent on needy students. Then $25 million will go to draw in the most promising students. They can go anywhere; but, let’s keep them here.

The next $100 million goes for research and creative works. That will bring out new ideas that benefit the state. I’ve been fortunate to see inside how many farm programs have paid farmers. Whether it’s growing better soybeans, beef heifers or pasture grasses the state benefits. Ag, after all is our No. 1 income source.

In fact ag faculty have led all bringing in outside grant investments. We can do more. And, will.

Choi plans to invest heavily in what’s called “Precision Medicine.” Now, I’ve personally benefited from better medical care. I see the value of heart care advances. My ancestors died young from heart failures. I’ve benefited from the advances in the last 30 years.

I devoted my life to returning efforts to pay for how I benefited from MU Extension. That started by being elected president of our local 4-H Club. Did I enjoy standing up front and talking? No way. But, I started learning something I’ve used all my life: Communicating.

I need not go into other investments. But, Choi knows people benefit from MU research, whether in business or health.

We’ve already benefited from a couple of years of amazing gift giving. Choi has that ability. But, we all must help.

We need more people who can translate what MU does into language that everyday people read and understand. They’ll realize their glass is half full. Maybe they’ll share back to Mizzou.

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